Friday, March 3, 2017

Bicentennial quilt from Iowa

Bicentennial Quilt, cotton/synthetic blend, unknown maker, Iowa, c. 1976, 63" x 78"
Confession: I completely am enthralled with Bicentennial quilts. It's hard not to love them. They capture the spirit of patriotism, optimism and new beginnings. In the 1970s, millions of people learned to quilt. The popular pasttime from the 30s and 40s practically skipped a generation from WWII through the Vietnam War, but the Bicentennial gave Americans inspiration to explore the past, and quiltmaking was part of it. What they didn't realize was how their activities would be the foundation of a multibillion dollar industry in the 21st century.

The quilt features an eagle in the center, surrounded by fields of red and blue stars above and below. There are 50 stars total. The eagle's head is facing to its right (the viewer's left), toward the olive branch in its talons, with arrows in the left talons (the viewer's right). I went looking for information about the head position of the eagle, and found there was a myth about its head changing position during times of war. In fact, there was one change made around World War II to its current position, but the head position does not change back and forth during times of war and peace.

The applique was done with hand buttonhole or blanket stitch embroidery in white, and the whole quilt is hand quilted. If you look closely, things are a bit off-center and catawonky, but I love that. Rudimentary technique is a hallmark of the period, just as flowing free motion quilting or graphic linear quilting are hallmarks of today's quilts. One of my favorite quirky details is the use of pink fabric at the top and bottom in the fields of stars. At first, it almost looks like color bleed, and it makes you do a double take. Very cool!

I was ten years old when the Bicentennial took place. It's hard to believe we will soon have another centennial event, the Sestercentennial, America's 250th birthday in 2026. I'll bring the quilts.

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